Mr. Rogers: The Outside Around the Child Changes, but the Inside Stays the Same

On his show, Mr. Rogers addressed the assassination, using that word, of Bobby Kennedy; he also addressed race, specifically through the use of pools by black and white people at the same time. He knew that children saw what was going on in the world and heard what their parents were talking about, and he knew it was scary for them not to know anything about what was going on. Rather than hide those events and ignore discrimination, he met the subjects on a level that children could understand. When Mr. Rogers ended his first run of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” it was because he thought he had taught everything he could to children about different subjects.

Returning to Children’s Television

When some children jumped off of buildings to be like Superman and got hurt, Mr. Rogers decided it was time to come back to television. He had new things to teach. What he realized was that the outside around children may change, but inside children are the same. While the world was becoming more difficult and facing bigger challenges, there was no one else addressing the issues in a way that children would understand. Mr. Rogers did weeklong theme shows on superheroes, divorce, and death. There was power, and genius in that, but most of all, there was love and the acknowledgement of the child as a human being.

Adults and Children

The outside around us changes, and our physical insides change. We grow up. Our land of make believe gets filled with the horror of worst-case scenarios, including death, disease, and seedy back alleys where unspeakable things happen. Our innocence is thrown to the ground and stomped on, but deep down, we are still those children we were growing up. We are still afraid of a world that is too big for us to understand. We still need a way to deal with how we feel, and more importantly, we need to deal with our own failings. The advantage that children have over adults is they carry less baggage about their failed realization of potential. We aren’t too sophisticated for Mr. Rogers; we are too proud, stubborn, and unable to declare our lack of self-sufficiency.

Find Solace, Strength and Help

If you’re having trouble with what you’re seeing on TV, turn to the children’s shows that are helping to make sense of it. Turn to Sesame Street and their explanations. That’s the easiest starting point for anyone, especially if you approach it with an open mind. And turn to the people who love you unconditionally, open your heart, and ask yourself who you want to be. If you’re angry and bitter, find a way to deal with that, so you can become a better person whose love lights up the world rather than whose scowl darkens the doorstep. In this way, we can reach toward healing for everyone, and maybe most importantly, for ourselves.